Goodstart Early Learning Ltd has been fined $71,000 following the tragic death of a 3-year-old boy who was left on a service bus in Edmonton in early 2020.
The Department of Education, as the Queensland Early Childhood Regulatory Authority, successfully prosecuted Goodstart Early Learning Ltd in the Cairns Magistrates Court following its investigation into the incident.
Goodstart pleaded guilty to charges of failing to adequately supervise a child, failing to take reasonable precautions to protect a child from harm and failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that the child’s attendance records were accurate. The first and second charges are offences under the National Law, each carrying a maximum penalty of $50,000.
The approved provider was fined $35,000 for each of the charges related to inadequate supervision and failure to prevent harm, and $1,000 for the charge related to inaccurate attendance records. The conviction is to be recorded.
On 29 September 2021, the Magistrate considered submissions concerning penalty.
In determining the appropriate fine and whether a conviction should be recorded, Acting Magistrate Ann Gummow particularly took into consideration the trauma that this matter has brought to the family, the community, Goodstart staff and the early childhood community at large.
She also acknowledged the post incident response of Goodstart, both with the family and the community and in tightening its procedures.
Goodstart advised the Magistrate of a number of steps taken after the incident to ensure their services remain compliant with the law and children are safe when they are being transported.
After researching and considering options, Goodstart had determined the safest precaution was to implement distinct roles for staff every time children were transported.
The approved provider has revised bus transportation procedures to require 2 educators in addition to the driver to perform the roles of ‘supervisor’ and ‘checker’.
The ‘supervisor’ sits at the back of the bus for the entire journey, forcing them to walk through the bus and check for children in order to exit.
The ‘checker’ is responsible for boarding the bus when it arrives at the service to ensure that all children have exited and to take photos of their empty seats. These photos are then uploaded to a centralised system.
Goodstart is also exploring ways to digitally record in ‘real time’ when a child boards or exits a bus.
The Regulatory Authority will continue to hold approved providers accountable for their obligations under the National Law regarding the safety and wellbeing of children in their care.
Goodstart Early Learning’s prosecution sends a strong message to all approved providers that they have an overriding responsibility to protect the children in their care from harm.
It is critical that everyone is aware of the importance of safety measures when it comes to transporting children and the department has been actively promoting the message to ‘Look Before You Lock’.
The department will continue to work with the sector to promote safe transportation and ensure that appropriate measures are in place whenever children are transported.
Where the steps taken are inadequate, the department will not hesitate to take appropriate action.